NASA’s SPHEREx mission is targeted to launch in 2023.

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies spread throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments:

UA Astronomers Join NASA Telescope Mission. NASA recently announced $242 million in funding for their “SPHEREx” project, a new space telescope designed to search the universe for the ingredients of life. Two astronomers and faculty members from the University of Arizona, Elisabeth Krause and Tim Eifler, are part of the project that is targeted for launch in 2023. SPHEREx (Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer) is planned to survey millions of galaxies in a search for water and organic molecules. Eifler is tasked with determining the best way to combine the data from the telescopes surveys. Krause will use the telescope to “better understand the physics behind the brief period of time following the big bang.” During the next four years, the SPHEREx team will design, build and test the space telescope.

Scandals into Busses. As a result of Arizona’s $59 million settlement with Volkswagen over emissions scandals, three Cochise County school districts are receiving a new school bus. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the German auto manufacturer had intentionally programmed their cars to lie about emissions to pass smog testing. The Justice Department, on behalf of the EPA, filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen, leading to settlements to several US states. Tombstone, Bisbee and Elfrida school districts will each receive one bus valued at $110,000 each. But this is only the first step with what to do with settlement, in the future over 100 school systems across the state will receive replacement buses. Priority will be given to school districts where at least 60 percent of students qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program.

A Better Treatment for Fibrosis. Fibrotic disorders, which are the buildup of scar tissue and fibers in the body’s organs, account for or influence nearly 45 percent of all deaths across the U.S. annually. Researchers at the UA recently invented the first “highly selective Nox4 small molecule inhibitors” for treating fibrotic disorders. Via Tech Launch Arizona, the UA licensed their technology to the startup “Fibronox” to bring the invention from the lab to the public. The UA team, including Louise Hecker, Vijay Gokhale and Reena Chawla, have developed novel Nox4 small molecule inhibitors as the next step in fighting fibrosis. According to Hecker, “Nox4 is the major cellular source of oxidant generation, and a drug targeting Nox4 would shut down oxidant production to combat oxidative stress and stop the problem at the source.”

Gov. Ducey Declares Arizona a “Pro-Vaccination” State. Gov. Doug Ducey recently announced he would not sign several controversial bills moving through state legislature that would lead to fewer children needing to be vaccinated. The three bills in question, proposed by Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) would expand vaccination exemptions and require doctors to offer parents a blood test to determine if their child is already immune. “I think it’s important for people to know that we are pro-vaccination in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “Vaccinations are good for our kids and helpful for public health.” Ducey’s declaration comes around the same time a Danish study on 657,461 children, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that vaccinations do not increase the risk for autism. 

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